Sunday, April 22, 2018

2 Timothy 1:3-7 "God Has Not Given Us A Spirit Of Fear "


Our focus text is  the 7th verse. Fear can be a good thing, but it can also be a very crippling thing. It is good when it keeps you from doing stupid things like dangling from long elasticated ropes, jumping into deep gorges and from suspension bridges. The Bible also says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (e.g. Prov. 1:7). So there is healthy fear.  Our text however speaks about   the matter of unhealthy fear, and this is the subject we are addressing today. I have provided you with some additional reading material on the subject, available in your bulletins and by way of an extra pamphlet we have published.

Last time we considered the opening verses (1:1-2) of   the second letter of Paul to Timothy. These opening words gave us an insight into the nature of Paul’s ministry. He was an apostle by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus. Paul was endowed with a tremendous sense of power and authority from God. That is what he needed for this particular apostolic work to which he was called.

From a concurrent study of the book of Acts on Sunday evenings we are able to observe the almost fearless nature of Paul as he,   in his apostolic journeys among the gentiles in Asia and Greece, walks into the proverbial lion’s den time and time again.  In 2 Corinthians 11: 16-33 he provides us with a biographical sketch of    what happened on his many journeys. It is hair-raising, and yet he kept on and on. On his last missionary journey[1]  he, against  all counsel  and  warning, went  on to Jerusalem, knowing that trouble and hardship would await him there  which would send him into this prison in which he now finds himself in  Rome. Yet he did not waver, for he knew that God had given him a spirit, not of fear, but of power and of love and of self- control.

Paul is writing to Timothy, his beloved child in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2).  Timothy is currently serving the church in Ephesus  (1 Tim. 1:3) , and it appears  from his first letter that Timothy had to contend with a number of  tough issues there, and it seems as if Timothy is really struggling  to apply himself  in this situation.  He is clearly suffering for the sake of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8) and that always brings with it peculiar temptations and fears.  So, Paul wrote this letter to strengthen him and to encourage him. He does this with so much love and tenderness and with insight into Timothy’s background.
But he also writes with firmness. He reminds Timothy that he is a gifted man and therefore an enabled man (1:6). We must not be tempted to think that Timothy was generally  weak and fearful. Why would Paul send Timothy into spiritually difficult situations if he was so fearful? It would seem quite unlikely that a timid soul would be entrusted with such an important  assignment.  He is essentially lacking nothing to do this difficult work in Ephesus, but he appears to have this Achilles heel- this fearful heart, this timidity at this time, and it is not helping him in this ministry. What then must he do?
Paul says to him, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self- control.” Now how will that piece of advice solve Timothy’s problem?  More than you may realize at this present moment! But before we look at this, please note that Paul does not address this statement specifically to Timothy but to "us". He applies this matter to all his readers, all people (you and I) including himself.  And if you are like me, you may also often   be oppressed by a spirit of fear which comes to us in many different ways.   Anxiety, worry about what might or might not happen … these are forms of fear; this is the spirit of fear. This verse says that these do not come from God.

Did it ever occur to you that we Christians are forbidden to fear or to be anxious when it comes to trusting God with our life? How many times in the Scriptures do we read that Jesus said, "Fear not!"; "Do not let not your heart be troubled" [Jn. 14:1, 14:27]; Do not be anxious about your life… your heavenly Father knows [Matt. 6:25-34].  Stop it when it starts going that way. God does not give us a spirit of fear.

The word translated as fear here in the ESV (timidity in the NIV) is not the normal word used in the Greek (phobos). It is the word deilia and it was never used in a good sense[2]. In Greek literature it describes the behaviour of a man running away in battle and so it is associated with a cowardly fear. How does this happen? It may be a timid or cowardly nature, whereby a person is just a plain coward. But I do not think that cowardice was Timothy’s problem.    It seems that Timothy may have become battle weary in the front lines of this spiritual battle. Paul in his days in Ephesus mentioned that he fought   with the wild beasts of Ephesus[3]. Timothy was in the same position. Day after day he faced the enemy of the gospel in so many different ways.  The danger of becoming battle weary is that we stop standing against the enemy and withdraw from the front lines of serving Christ, allowing the enemy to gain ground.  The rule of spiritual warfare, according to Ephesians 6:10-18  is to stand  against the enemy. 

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874 -1965) once spoke to the boys at his old school, Harrow School, in October of 1941, on Speech Day and he told them, "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” [4]
Well, there was a man who led Britain through her darkest hours against overwhelming odds. By his leadership he caused Britain to stand resolutely against Hitler’s German Reich. 

As Paul sat in this Roman prison, awaiting execution, he wrote this final letter to encourage Timothy to not to give into cowardly fear, despite the opposition.  And this letter is for every Christian enlisted in the war for Christ and His kingdom, and against Satan and his kingdom.   And God doesn’t give us a spirit of cowardice.  He calls us not to hide our lights under a cover.  He calls us not to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is not the spirit of the Christian soldier.  

So how is that very common experience of fear (whether through actual cowardice or induced by battle weariness) dealt with among us? Listen to Paul’s brief answer, as he provides us with an effective  threefold strategy from God to combat this spirit of fear.  God gives power, God gives love and God gives self- control - and this is the remedy!

1. God Gives Us A Spirit Of Power.
Thank God that we need not be slaves to anyone – and especially not to fear.  We have been given powerful resources in Christ. We are not helpless or defenceless.  No one in the Bible puts it better than the apostle Peter:  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence“ [2 Peter 1:3]. Being a Christian is not a self -driven effort.  The Bible tells us that the   God who begins a work in our lives helps us [Phil. 1:6]. If he begins a work in us then he will bring it to completion. His power continues the work that his power began. So too, everything that God gave Timothy to do, He also equipped him for.  Paul knew that so well. He wrote to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Phil. 4:13]. Whatever God commands us to do in the Bible, that He also gives us the power to do.  When He wants you to forgive your worst enemies He will give you the power to do so.  When He commands you to love Him with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself, He will give you the power to do so for every situation.  When He commands you to love your wife as Christ loved the church, and you ask Him to help you, He will.  And you dear woman, can submit to your difficult husband, as to the Lord (1 Peter 3:1-7). Children,    you can obey your parents when your teenage hormones are beginning to rage against them.  You can do everything through him who gives you strength. Everything God asks of you in the Bible you can do by the power God gives you every day, and sufficient for the day thereof.  God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power. This power  does not belong to a  Christian  elite.   This power from God is given to every single Christian without exception. 

2. God Gives Us A Spirit Of Love.
The apostle John, that great apostle of love, gives us the most profound insight in this regard. He says in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  He tells us that God is love [1 Jn.  4:8]. And God loved this poor world that He gave us His Son as an atoning sacrifice to take away our sin. And John says that if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another [1 Jn. 4:11] …and not only ought we to. We can stand firm in love, because God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us [Romans 5]. Against all opposition and intimidation that gave way to fear, a   great spirit of love came upon the early Christian church, so that they shared all they had with other Christians. They loved one another not just in word but also in deed. That love, God gives to every one of his people, and it drives out fear. Love is the antidote to fear. You will not fear your enemies if you love them.

3. God Gives Us A Spirit Of Self- Control (NIV – self-  discipline)  .
Again this word is found only here in the New Testament (Gr. sōphronismou). It means to be wise and   level-headed; to have a practical, sanctified common sense. How can anyone lead others when they cannot control themselves?  Even power must have self-control. A powerful engine without controls is power out of control.  A powerful dictator without accountability is out of control.
And love too must have control. Love without truth is hypocritical, mushy, soppy sentimentalism. Love without principled truth behind it will cause a man or a woman   to leave their spouse and family and run off, simply because   they are utterly infatuated with one another. We need this self-discipline, along with love and power to fight against the spirit of fear.  And so you see that we have a powerful triad here.  These three Christian graces need to be present in forming our Christian character in this world. And you need them all – just like faith, hope and love, another vital Christian triad.   Not just two out of the three – all three.  

Will you measure yourself and test yourself by the Scriptures today?
·       Especially with regard to your fears in immersing yourself completely in the gospel?
·       Being a fearless soldier in Christ’s work? 
·   Will you lay hold of God’s power and God’s love and will you exercise self- control by His strength this week?
·       Will you ask Him for it in prayer?
·       Will you believe that He will supply your need against fear?
·       And will you testify some day before this congregation how God helps you in this matter?



[1] Acts 18:23- 21:26
[2] Vines Expository Dictionary: p. 230 .
[3]  See 1 Corinthians 15:32.   This probably refers  to the struggles that  Paul  had with  the  devotees of Artemis (The Cult of Diana of Ephesus).
[4] https://www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org/never-give-in-never-never-never.html  This  link contains the short, but powerful  speech given on that occasion.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

2 Timothy 1:1-2 "To Timothy from Paul, with Love."


The second letter of Paul to Timothy written in 67/68 AD is a very special, beautiful, fatherly letter written to a beloved son in the faith. Jesus had his beloved disciple John, and Paul had his beloved Timothy.

These are Paul’s last recorded words that we know of. Paul knows that he is going home to be with Jesus very soon (4:7, 8, 18). Last words are significant. They are weighty and in true apostolic fashion they are prophetic and thus by the   inspiration of the Holy Spirit he writes to help Timothy and the church at Ephesus over which the Holy Spirit had made him a pastor. And he helps us here today. The message of the Bible,  the inspired Word of God is timeless and for all ages, and remains an important counselling tool  for us.  

Paul is in chains (1:16). He is imprisoned, under house-arrest, but as we see in Acts 28:30,31 he initially  has  significant liberties. He can receive visitors and he is free to preach the gospel to all who come to see him. However, his  liberties in preaching the gospel  will only increase the hate of those  that oppose the gospel and so it appears  in this letter that  Paul knows that soon he will be dead (cf.  4:6-8).The time has come. His work is done, and what a work that was!  After Christ’s death, and following Pentecost   many were converted under the missionary labours of the apostle Paul.  But Satan who always opposes the gospel through people who he has taken captive to do his will, will  always make   sure that  God’s work would be opposed (cf. Acts 20:29,30). Here is an instance.  
In A.D. 64, a few years before Paul’s second letter to Timothy was composed, the emperor Nero caused Rome to burn and he conveniently blamed it on the Christians, because Christianity was beginning to make a real impact upon Roman society.  So Satan inspired men like Nero to start a cruel persecution of Christians. Being a Christian was now no longer a novelty. It was dangerous, and it led to apostasy on the part of many whose hearts weren’t truly settled in Christ.

But in addition to the persecution of the church there was also the deception of the church. Paul had warned the Ephesian elders about this in Acts 20:29, 30. False teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing as he calls them,   were upsetting the faith of many and so Paul also includes a pointed warning in this letter concerning the coming times of difficulty (3:1ff) along with encouragement to stand steadfast in the gospel (4:1ff).  

Another thing… at this time Paul found himself virtually abandoned in Rome (vv. 15-17).

So with all this in mind we now simply wish to consider the nature of Paul’s relationship with this young pastor, whom we know as Timothy.   

PAUL AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS BY THE WILL OF GOD…

This letter to Timothy came with a particular authority.  Yes, Paul was indeed Timothy’s mentor and father in the faith and as such that fact would have carried much weight, but notice that the weight of his words does not come from his special relationship with Timothy. Paul was not a self-styled guru, a magnetic personality, to whom people are attracted and devoted. Paul did not appear to have such qualities in any case[1].  No, these words came from an apostle of Christ Jesus – an appointed messenger, a dedicated messenger of the Lord Jesus. These words come ultimately to Timothy from God Himself.

Paul was appointed a messenger of divine truth by the will of God. And Paul did not call himself to this ministry. God sovereignly chose him before he was born (Gal. 1:15).  And he was called to be an apostle in time by the Lord Jesus, whilst on the road to Damascus with the intention to persecute Christians (Acts 9:3ff). You may choose to become a painter or a construction worker, a designer or a policeman, but you do not choose to become an apostle. That, incidentally, is true for all spiritual gifts. They are callings.  Spiritual gifts are sovereignly granted and appointed by the Holy Spirit, who gives as He wills (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:7,8,11). Paul, by trade and skill was a tentmaker, and by calling he was an apostle of Jesus Christ.

As an apostle he had the God given authority and calling from God to be a reliable truth bearer after Christ had ascended to heaven.  He was able to speak and provide reliable doctrine (God -breathed Scripture cf. 3:16) for the young church, and to have these reliable words written down for future use. In this letter he is concerned to   help his young pastor friend (who also has a divine calling) to pass on this apostolic doctrine to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2:2).  Timothy, apart from teaching sound words to his congregation (1:13) and having a high regard for the Scriptures (3:16, 17),   must mentor others who will also teach (2:2). He must be a balanced man, and careful with words (2:14). He must be sound and balanced in the presentation of his doctrine. He must not engage in foolish controversy (2:23) nor be quarrelsome, but be kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness (2:24, 25). He must understand the rebellious nature of the people that he ministers to (3:1-9; 4:3-4). He must be a ready preacher of the Word of God (4:1) - an evangelist; a preacher of the gospel of Jesus at all times (4:5). In all this, Paul was a true model of a balanced gospel ministry.  There is no real Christianity without learning from Jesus and His apostles. That is why we (beginning with pastors, elders, deacons, heads of families, fathers, mothers) must get to know the Bible and make its teachings our lifestyle.  

ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE OF THE LIFE THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS…

This is the heart of the apostolic message:  “according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus”. You can live the Christian life only by the power that Christ supplies day by day. We get this life only by being united to Jesus.

TO TIMOTHY MY BELOVED CHILD…

Timothy represents the new generation of pastors. He himself is not an apostle. He builds upon the  foundation that the apostles and prophets have laid.  And Timothy has a special place in Paul’s heart.  In all likelihood he was converted under Paul’s ministry, and that is special.  I have a special affection and love in my heart for Richard Graham and Buzzy Kloot, students at UCT who first challenged my lukewarmness in the first half of 1978. I have a special affection for Pastor Frank Retief, the man under who’s preaching my spiritual eyes were first opened on the 22nd of June 1978 to see the Lord Jesus for who He is. I have a special love for that loving man Victor Pearce, now with the Lord, a University chaplain at the Student YMCA. He was the one who first nurtured me   as a raw convert.  And what can I say about my love and gratitude for my first real pastors at the Walvis Bay Baptist Church, Don Watson and later  Peter Radmanovich? And what can I say about Charles Whitson, the founding pastor of the Eastside Baptist Church, and his dear wife Betty, (both now with the Lord Jesus) who have been so kind and loving to me when I first came to Windhoek in 1983?  It was under Charles Whitson’s ministry that I was encouraged to enrol at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Cape Town   in 1986, and what rich years those were. And in that same year I met the woman who would love me more than anyone else on this earth.

Timothy my beloved child (or son)… Timothy was truly loved by Paul and he loved Paul.   As already said, he probably came to know and love the Lord Jesus whom he now served as a pastor, under Paul’s ministry.  And Paul knew Timothy’s family. He knows that his mother was named Eunice and he even knows the name of his grandmother, Lois. (1:5) Timothy was half Gentile and half Jewish. His father was a Greek. He was born and raised in Lystra where Paul had been nearly stoned to death (Acts 16:1). He was ordained when Paul and the other elders laid their hands on him (1:6; 1 Tim 4:14). Paul knew Timothy well. He knew that Timothy had a  timid nature (1:7). He knew that he had a fragile constitution who needed to be urged to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his frequent ailments (1 Tim 5:23).

You really love a person when you take care to get to know them. Paul really loved Timothy.  He took care to know him. He was not some high minded church leader, aloof and altogether on another level, mightier than thou, preoccupied with his own importance and status as an apostle.  Paul was like his Lord Jesus. Jesus, the mighty Son of God Himself was capable of getting down to the level of the man or woman he would meet along life’s highway. He was able to love the unlovely. He came for sinners. We read that when he met with the conceited rich young ruler in Mark 10:21, that He looked at him and loved him. And so too we remember that God loved us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), and the cross is the profoundest evidence of this fact. Jesus died on the cross for sinners. God so loved the world that He gave ….(Jn. 3:16)

God is love.  God loves us. You, dear believer are made in the image of God.  And you are made to imitate the God who loves you  (1 Jn. 3:16; 4:11). You are born again to love God and to love others. It is the mark of a true Christian.  

So, before we get into this  letter, we take note  that  Paul was not only an apostle. He was a true child of God characterized by his real love for God and for this individual, called Timothy and his real love for the lost world of his day.  When Paul loved Timothy he showed that he was a true disciple of the Lord. And because he loved him, he wanted the very best for him. What is the very best that we could wish for anyone?  Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!
The Grace of God, the mercy of God changed Paul from a hateful persecutor to a loving man.

SUMMARY

Our first meditation in this little letter has opened our hearts and minds to the profound apostolic authority of Paul and the deep love which accompanies this ministry.  They belong together as two sides of a coin. The natural outflow of our apostolic doctrine is that we love God, love one another and love this lost world.  And we see it consistently reflected in Paul’s life and ministry.  And this is all built upon the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus whose wonderful love we now remember  and celebrate in this table [ Lord's Supper]  set before us. 


[1] E.g. 2 Corinthians 10:10 English Standard Version (ESV)  10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.”

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Mark 16 - The Resurrection applied between Unbelief and Grace


The sequence of our Easter meditations at Eastside has followed the chronology  of Scripture:
(i) Palm Sunday -  Jesus received  with Hosanna’s  
(ii) Thursday - the night that He was betrayed, Jesus celebrated the Passover and instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper. 
(iii) Friday - the cross  
(iv) Saturday -  the silent  day when Jesus rested  on the Sabbath  day from  His finished  work  on the cross  
(iv) Sunday,   the first day of the week (16:2) -  the day of the Resurrection. 
Everything happened, just as Jesus had said earlier in Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:33-34.  
He had said that He would be killed and after three days He would rise again.

On this Resurrection Sunday  I want us to consider Mark 16 which  is not often used because of the controversial ending. I need to briefly  comment  on that note in your  Bibles  which says concerning  the ending to Mark’s gospel, “Some of the oldest oldest and most reliable New Testament manuscripts   do not include Mark 16:9-20.  
The oldest manuscripts referred to here are the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. The King James Bible of 1611 contains vv. 9-20 without the footnote because the translators of this version used the Textus Receptus, the text handed down through the church age.  Since 1611, however, older manuscripts have been discovered, notably in 1844 when the archaeologist Constantin von Tischendorf discovered ancient manuscripts at the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mt. Sinai. These documents did not include vv. 9-20.The conclusion has therefore been that these verses were added later.  This may disturb some and you wonder whether there has not more tampering in the Bible. We can put your fears to rest. When these more ancient documents were discovered by von Tischendorf in 1844, and later the discovery of the Dead sea scrolls [1]from 1946 onwards, it was found that there were some discrepancies with the Textus Receptus, but not of a major nature. No major or even minor doctrine was affected by the differences. 

But what can we say about what is taught in vv. 9-20?  Apart from verses 17 and 18 there is nothing unusual or controversial here. It is entirely in harmony with the other gospels. So, we are free to focus on the great theme of this chapter, namely the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this chapter we see two repeated thoughts concerning the resurrection:  
The first is, “They did not believe”
The second is, “He appeared“. 

These two phrases dominate the content of Mark Chapter 16. Let’s consider them in greater detail  

1.     The ever present problem of unbelief

Think about this.  Nobody lived physically closer to Jesus than these people here mentioned in our text.  They were privileged to see with their own eyes His real miracles and the evidence of His sinless life. They were privileged to hear His convicting preaching. They heard him say on numerous occasions that He would be killed, buried and raised again.   The sobering reality is that against all this no-one   of Christ’s close associates really believed Him when He said that He would rise from the dead!  Whilst we take note of the recurring “unbelief“ of all concerned, we must not read ‘unbelief’ here as something of a final fact.  These people all had loved Jesus deeply in life.  They were missing him sorely now. They mourned and wept (16:10).  Mary Magdalene owed him her very life, for Jesus had cast out 7 demons from her (16:9). The two walking in the country (16:12) were according to Luke  (24: 13-35) talking about these things on the road to Emmaus. It is clear that they were depressed at this thought   that Jesus had been crucified and buried in a grave. They had no expectation of His resurrection.   The language of the text reveals this.  Now again, this has nothing to do with cynical unbelief. In their minds they were simply not able to bring themselves to believe that Jesus would come back from the dead, even though He had proven that He had the power over death in the raising of Lazarus in John 11. 

Now let’s take a look at a cross section  of these people.

The women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, after the Sabbath was past, and  early on Sunday morning  they went to  the tomb  to anoint the dead body of Jesus. That in itself is a sign of unbelief. If Jesus said that He would rise on the third day, then there was actually no need to buy and apply these funeral spices. All they needed to do was to wait for the resurrection! But they clearly did not expect the resurrection. So, when they came to the tomb the next day (the first day of the week) they saw that the tomb stone had been rolled away, but still they made no connection. John records that Mary Magdalene had run back to tell Peter about this. She reported (note the language of unbelief) … “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (Jn. 20:2,13). No thought of the resurrection. Even when Jesus appeared to her a little later,   she thought that He was the gardener (Jn. 20:15) supposing that he might have carried the body of Jesus away. Only when Jesus addressed her by her name, “Mary[2], did she recognise Him.   This is the power of unbelief! There are none as blind as those who will not see!  A closed mind chooses to see what it wants to see.  This is what we are up against when we share the Gospel!  However, as I have reminded you, this is not cynical unbelief- and yet we shall see that it is still sinful unbelief.

The disciples:  the angel at the tomb confirms the fact of the resurrection to the women: “Do not be alarmed, you seek   Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here … but go and tell  his disciples  and Peter  that he is going before you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he has told you” (vv. 6,7). When they told the grief stricken disciples, they too would not believe her. Even though they have heard the Lord Jesus speaking to them plainly about His resurrection they did not hear Him!  Observe the power of the closed mind, the stuck mind, the power of unbelief! We all engage in selective hearing. We all choose to hear what we want to hear! The doctrine of election is a classic case. How many of us have not initially refused to hear this clear biblical truth and were angry with those that preached it? Jesus repeatedly challenges us to consider carefully how we hear, e.g. Mk 4:9,23,24; 8:18

The 2 men on the Emmaus road : In vv. 12 &13 we find an incident  which described in greater detail in Luke’s gospel (Lk. 24:13-32). Two men are walking on the road to Emmaus. Lost in grief and depressed about the things that had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (Lk.24:16) as He joined them. Later He opened their eyes to recognize Him (Lk.24:31).  For the first time we are helped to see the remedy for unbelief,… they were helped to see !

The 11 disciples: In v.14 we find   the 11 disciples  in Galilee when Jesus suddenly  joins them. We read, “...and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”  This is an important insight. Jesus categorizes this unbelief as a sinful hardness of heart!

Now, you may say, “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus with all my heart“.  We, modern New Testament believers, having been exposed to the Easter story for so many years find it easier to believe in the resurrection than the women and the disciples, because we have become so used to hear this familiar story!  So let’s see whether we cannot try another avenue to test our own tendency to unbelief. If you believe in the resurrection of Christ and do not question this because the resurrection is now an established, historical fact, then do you also believe in the second coming of the Lord Jesus?  To get close up and personal: are you living in the constant anticipation of His appearing, whether by your death or by His personal appearing in the clouds? And does it make a difference to the way in which you live now and make decisions now? Do you get the point?

2.      He  Appeared!

This is the act of Grace: He appeared to deal with their unbelief! 
He appeared - this phrase is repeated 3 times in vv.9-20:  
(i) 16:9 “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” 
(ii) 16:12he appeared in another form to two of them” 
(iii) 16:14Afterward He  appeared to the Eleven themselves...”. 

He  came to   deliver  His beloved people  from  unbelief  by His post  resurrection appearances. And these were not the only.   In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8  the apostle Paul speaks of many more resurrection appearances,  “…he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”  
Paul wrote these words about 20 years after the resurrection. Many of those who met the risen Jesus Christ were still alive at that time. From Paul’s perspective the evidence for the resurrection is utterly overwhelming!  And the resurrection appearances were not that of a ghost. This was   a physical Christ!  He spoke to Mary. He spoke to the men on the Emmaus road. They also had a meal together on that occasion.  The apostles ate fish that Christ had caught and prepared at the seaside. Ghosts don’t do breakfast for their friends!

He appeared says Mark three times. He appeared, says Paul 4 times in the letter to the Corinthians just quoted.  Peter says the same thing in Acts 10:39-41 in the home of a Roman soldier: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”

This is what we also affirm today on this Resurrection Sunday. He appeared! And He will appear again  at the second coming.   We have to get over the fact that supernatural is not irrational! Yes, we do not understand how a man can die and live again, but are we saying and assuming that we can know everything? Surely our own experience tells us that we don’t know everything!  
There is the planet Mars, and we have a rover there, but the truth is that we know very little about Mars. But we know that Mars is  there, and we trust that we will see more of it  in years to come. The Resurrection of Jesus is a fact. The evidence is there, and Jesus took care to present the evidence in His post resurrection appearances. He knows how weak and unbelieving we are, and so He took care to strengthen our faith by His post  resurrection appearances.  Don’t be slow to believe all that is written  in the Scriptures.    And thank Him that He works even this day  to overcome our unbelief  with Grace. Thank God for the  gift  of the  illuminating work of the  Holy Spirit given  to us at Pentecost.  

Where does the knowledge of the Resurrection leave us? 

The ending of Mark (16:15-20) like Matthew 28:18-20 leaves us with the Great Commission: The resurrection leaves us with an evangelistic duty.
For almost six weeks before the Ascension,   the Lord Jesus Christ was with the disciples and then He gave them a great commission.  He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”.  (vv. 15,16)
Go and tell!  Do not be unbelieving, tell people about His  life, death  and resurrection.
Verse  20 tells  us,   and they went out  and preached everywhere.” They went out and it was not long before their world knew that there was a resurrected  Saviour  whom God had sent  to save those who would believe in Him, from their sins.  Soon there were believers everywhere – in Rome, in Corinth, Ephesus …in every major city in Asia minor in the Roman and  Greek world,  and spreading into  North Africa and Europe and  into the Far East. Many of them experienced persecution and sufferings; numbers lost their lives doing this work. They endured it all. Would they have done this if they weren’t convinced that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and had commanded them to go? What else can explain the fact of the growth of the church in the world today?  Do not be unbelieving… Grace has been given  to you not only to believe but to be  active in the sharing of your faith?  Does your neighbour  know  about Jesus? 
Cure the unbelief of the world by the proclamation of the grace of God !

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Acts 21:27- 36 ”Away with Him!“


It is  providential that we come to this passage   in the book of Acts  on this Palm Sunday. On this day we remember  that time when a  crowd welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem  with the word ‘Hosanna’ (Save we pray). In the course of the week  they would  shout, 
“away with him- crucify him!”  

The apostle  Paul, having now arrived  in Jerusalem  also  receives a welcome from the church in Jerusalem, but  soon he will be  in trouble. Soon they will shout, 'Away with him!' He  will, like the Lord Jesus whom he loved and served be   falsely accused  and rejected by the mob in the temple, as they shout, ‘away with him’  (21:36 cf. 22:22).

REVIEW

Paul had come to Jerusalem from the gentile territories in Asia and Macedonia and Greece with a generous collection of the gentile churches for the poverty stricken Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  It was a part of his strategy to unite the hearts of Jewish and Gentile Christians   who had become one family in Christ.  However, upon arrival he faced a problem. The Jewish Christians in the church at Jerusalem were deeply suspicious of Paul, thinking that he was subverting the law and traditions of Israel.  And so instead of gratitude expressed for the thoughtfulness and love and kindness of the gentile churches, and for Paul who initiated this action on behalf of the impoverished church in Jerusalem, we find James and the Jerusalem elders busy with another agenda.

Since it was believed and said that Paul was teaching the converted Jews among the gentiles (i.e. in the province of Asia where he had just come from) to forsake the law of Moses (21:21) they were eager for Paul to clear himself of these charges. They suggest is that   he should   join, and also pay for the expenses of four Jewish Christians, members of the Jerusalem church who had taken a Nazarite vow[1]. The Nazirite vow would last for a specified period and would end by offering a lamb, a ram, grain offerings, and a drink offering.  This would not be a cheap undertaking for an average man on the street. Furthermore you have to imagine what was going through Paul’s mind. His purpose was to be an ambassador for unity between Jew and gentile, for they had indeed become one church.  And for now it seems that all his plans had been derailed, but  we note  that Paul decided not to  protest. He had decided to obey the Jerusalem elders and in vv. 26 – 27 we take note of his submission to them.  We are also reminded that Paul had undertaken such a vow before in Acts 18:18[2].  We must always remember  that  Paul was a true Jew, and  truly committed to his Jewish community, and he did not,  as a rule,  go against the Jewish ceremonies in as far as they did not detract from the centrality of Christ, for  in truth, if  sincerely  undertaken all these OT ceremonies would point the true Jewish believer to Christ. In this case it is shown that Jewish Christians subscribed to OT practises such as the Nazarite vow.  James and the Jerusalem elders subscribed to these practises.  So when James and the elders make this suggestion, Paul did not argue, because he did not see this as a major hill to die on.  Paul   was far more concerned about the greater issues, such as the unity of the church of Jesus, consisting now of Jew and Gentile.

So then in v. 27  we read that  the purification  notice was almost completed when more trouble arose, such as was prophesied  on a number of occasions. It all began when  Jews from Asia saw him and recognised him  in the temple. They obviously had come  for the feast of Pentecost. These Jews  now began to stir  the whole crowd in the temple up against Paul, accusing him (see 21:28,29 for accusations).

They  had previously  seen him in the city company of Trophimus,  a native  of  the city of  Ephesus, and they supposed, they inferred, they guessed  that  Paul had brought him, a gentile  into the temple. The temple was divided into various zones. There was the outer court known as the Court of the Gentiles.  And then there was the inner court, the Court of the Jews.  The two courts were divided by a wall on which warnings in Greek and Latin were posted, indicating that if any gentile was found in the Court of the Jews or anyone  brought a gentile  into the Court of the Jews they would face death.  
It would have been highly unlikely that Paul would have brought Trophimus into the Court of Israel, but that is what he is charged with.   This is the nature of the satanic battle which true believers face so very often. False charges (Note: this is the second false charge in this chapter) are frequently devised against believers. This was the case of the Lord Jesus with the trumped up charges against him. This was the case also of Stephen the first martyr of the Christian church.  In Acts 7:13 we read, ‘they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law.’”  And Paul now finds himself in the same position as Stephen had found himself in.  It is interesting to see how Paul uses the same language in his opening defence as Stephen did (‘Brothers and fathers, hear me…’cf. 7:2 à 22:1).  And Paul could have well been put to death there and then, and we read that they were in fact in the act of killing him (21:31). But he isn’t killed and from now on and for the rest of his life will take a radical turn. He will be imprisoned.  He will never see Jerusalem and the temple again.  He will be taken to Rome.

So then in the midst of this upheaval, and  when he is almost  killed (21:31), word comes to  the Tribune[3]  (Claudius  Lysias  cf.23:26) of the Roman cohort in Jerusalem and  Paul is rescued. He is arrested and taken away in chains whilst the mob shouts many contradictions: ‘some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another (21:34)… and eventually they shouted ‘away with him’! (21:36, 22:22). These are  the  very same words that they had used when Pilate brought out Christ and Barabbas and concerning Christ they said  “Away with Him!” meaning, kill Him.

How did the Roman troops get there so quickly to rescue Paul?  From the geography and history   of  Jerusalem  we  learn that  adjoining the NW corner of the temple there  was  a  Roman  fortress – the Antonia Fortress[4]. This fortress was actually bordering the Court of the Gentiles of the temple. It had towers from which soldiers could look down and see what was going on in the temple precincts. The Roman soldiers were always on the alert for trouble, for the political times were of such a nature. In 21:38 we shall see that the Roman tribune initially thought that they had arrested  an Egyptian prophet who had stirred up a revolt against the Romans.[5]   In times of chaos Satan thrives and fuels  the fire with misinformation.

21:37-  22:21   PAUL'S  RESPONSE 

Here we see  that  Paul takes this opportunity to correct  the mistaken assumptions:

(i)              In 21: 37-39  he corrects  the Roman tribune’s  false  assumption concerning him.  He says to this military Tribune, “May I say something to you?” The Tribune  realizes that  Paul is not an Egyptian troublemaker. He speaks in Greek, and he finds out that Paul is actually  a Roman citizen.

(ii)         In 21:40 - 22: 1-21  he seeks to clarify his own  position  before the angry mob – his history of conversion and  of his call, and we will  consider this  next time.

SUMMARY AND APPLICATION 

And so we find that everything that was prophesied concerning Paul’s sufferings in Jerusalem comes true. And we know that despite the Holy Spirit’s warnings Paul chose this road of suffering against all counsel and advice. Was he foolish and therefore wrong? Was he stubborn and unteachable? There are many people who have many opinions on this, and I think that such speculations are essentially unfruitful. The fact is that   Paul chose this road and so it stands recorded for us by the Holy Spirit. And the verdict is now  'AWAY WITH HIM!'  

Paul knew what awaited him, and still he trusted God for the ultimate outcome. Paul certainly did not love his life more than he loved the Lord Jesus and the church (made up of converted Jews and Gentiles)  which Jesus died for.

I believe that Paul was ultimately sent by God to test the Jews once again. And again we learn that the Jews (as was the case in the ministry of the Lord Jesus) reject the gospel.  It seems to me  that at this  point in the Acts narrative  Christian Jews  were also  beginning to  turn  away from Christ and they are returning back to the law. James and the Jerusalem elders were in real danger in this regard. There is plenty of internal evidence that Christian Jews  were  turning  back to the law.  Almost 30 years after Christ’s death (the Acts 21 timeline here is AD 59) they were losing their focus on Christ and His work for the global church.

I believe that the letter to the Hebrews was written to Christian Jews such as these. The letter of Hebrews teaches such about the superiority of Christ and His gospel, and it warns backsliding Jewish Christians of the severe consequences of turning away from the salvation which Christ has offered. For reasons such as this I believe that Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews. Paul of all apostles  knew the danger that  converted Jews were facing in this regard. 

Others who hold to Pauline authorship  of the letter  to the Hebrews  were the church fathers Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 150 – 215) and Origen (AD 185 – 253). They claimed a Pauline association (i.e. written with the help of Dr Luke) for the book. Augustine (354 AD) held to Pauline authorship. A modern theologian like the well-known Dr R. C. Sproul and a trusted preacher like Stuart Olyott concur.  Professor Eta Linnemann (a former disciple of Rudolph Bultmann and later a  true convert of Jesus)  in her  respected work, “A Call for a Retrial in the Case of the Epistle to the Hebrews,” [6]  is essential reading for those who doubt Pauline authorship. She takes to task many arguments advanced against Pauline authorship and largely demolishes them.

From chapter 22 onwards we shall now enter into Paul’s fruitful last phase of life and ministry and it shall be to the gentiles (cf. 22:21).  And as a representative  of Christ  he shall lay down his life not among the Jews in Jerusalem, but among the gentiles in Rome.

Oh how challenging, despairing and exciting is a committed walk with God. Never a dull moment!


[1] Numbers 6:  This was a rite that Jews who had been out of the country (and therefore in contact with Gentiles) would have undergone when they came back to Jerusalem,  and when  they intended to take part in the festivals associated with the temple.  
[2] It looks as though Paul  had  taken  a Nazarite vow in  Cenchrea (18:18). He had shaved his head on his way from Corinth. On that occasion he was travelling back  to Antioch. He landed in Caesarea, made his way up to Antioch. It is likely  that  Paul first  went to Jerusalem, to finish the Nazarite vow at  the temple.
[3] A military tribune (Latin tribunus militum, "tribune of the soldiers", Greek chiliarchos, χιλίαρχος) was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion.
[4] built in 35 B.C. by Herod the Great, paid for by a benefactor, Marc Anthony; hence the name, the Antonia Fortress.
[5] This incident is confirmed by Josephus : Jewish Antiquities 20.8.5-6 (War 2.13.5-6 ) “At this time there came out of Egypt to Jerusalem a man who said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the mountain called the Mount of Olives, which lay a distance of five furlongs from the city. He said that he would show them that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, through which he promised that he would procure them an entrance into the city…”
[6]  Faith and Mission, vol. 19, Issue 2, 2002, p.37.